There is nothing quite so magical as the Christmas season. Strings of lights and the continuous strains of familiar Christmas tunes wind their way through the crisp, cold night air. Northwestern has held itself to such a high standard of festivity that it is nearly impossible not to smile with cheer. One event in particular adds not only to the ambiance of the season, but also reminds its attendees of the true meaning of Advent.
Vespers is a concert comprised of multiple musical ensembles and takes place the first weekend of December. Performances are on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. in the chapel. The entire music department invites you to come and hear the story of our Saviour’s birth through Scripture and song.
For each ensemble participating in Vespers, preparation begins well in advance; the A cappella choir begins rehearsing music as soon as Fall Break ends. Part of this work ethic is applied towards making the entire program a seamless transition from one selection to another.
“The Vespers program asks the audience to refrain from clapping until the end of the performance, making it a program of worship more than a performance,” Women’s Choir director Susan De Jong said.
This is a central founding belief of the faculty and students in the music department: the gifts given by God are developed and honed so that those participating may praise Him with every performance.
Vespers is a particularly unique concert experience because of the high level of audience participation. Throughout the evening there are familiar Christmas carols such as “Once in Royal David’s City” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” each of these songs a collaborative effort between the performers and the audience to praise God.
A variety of musical literature takes the listener through the familiar Nativity story found in the books of Matthew and Luke. “There is Faint Music” composed by Dan Forrest and sung by the Women’s Choir tells of the preparation for the Child’s birth, the A cappella Choir sings a sweeping and gorgeously melodic “Ave Maria” admiring the grace and importance of the Virgin Mother, while the penultimate “Joy to the World” that finishes the program swirls through the rafters as the audience and performers rejoice in the arrival of Jesus.
“Vespers transports us out of what society tells us Christmas is about and allows us to journey back in time using scripture and musical selections to remember and celebrate the true meaning of Christmas, Christ’s birth,” De Jong said.
Beautiful pieces performed by the Brass Ensemble, directed by Tim McGarvey, such as the “Susato Suite” arranged by John Iverson, as well as multiple pieces by the Chamber Orchestra, transport the listener to days of Christmas past and add much to the time of celebration.
“Vespers is a time to celebrate the incarnation in community through great music and to be enriched and inspired,” McGarvey said.
Come and hear the good news: Christ is born! In the midst of a fallen Earth, Jesus was laid in a lowly manger, the humblest of places, to once again bring hope to the world. Surrounded by an atmosphere of warm and joyous community, Vespers is a unique and worshipful Christmas experience.